North Carolina was the epicenter of the horticulture industry when the National Association of Landscape Professionals held its annual collegiate competition at Alamance Community College. In North Carolina this $8.6 billion industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy. Students entering this industry have a bright future and look forward to making our world a better place.
Thanks to Garden Destinations for making this story possible
I think a lot of people think landscape architecture as a specific thing, like a garden or a park. But if you look at it more closely you realize it’s actually everything that our daily lives are set up on. It’s the fabric of our lives. I think it’s the ability to help everyone enjoy their surroundings, their landscape. That’s power. We can feel connected to the Piedmont, we can feel connected to North Carolina and help us feel at home in a way.
Landscapes do make us feel at home. That insight is from Avery Bartlett-Golden. He’s a student at NC State University and he helped me peer into the future.
I’m Lise Jenkins and this is the Triangle Gardener show. We are your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Support from Garden Destinations made this story possible and you can find them at GardenDestinations.com
This past spring our state was the epicenter of the horticulture industry when the National Association of Landscape Professionals held its collegiate competition at Alamance Community College. By the numbers this was a big event. 775 students from 61 schools participated; over 400 industry representatives and 150 faculty and staff members were on hand. I visited the campus during on the last day of competition and was a little overwhelmed by the scope of it all. Several competitions where happening at the same time —irrigation, tree climbing, plant identification and installation, and so much more. I wasn’t sure what to see first. Hundreds of people were there; but it wasn’t chaotic. Everything was well choreographed and it was clear a lot of work had gone into making this a great experience. So when I met one of the organizers I just had to ask her why does the landscape industry mount an event this complex for college students?
My name is Jenn Myers. I am with the National Association of Landscape Professionals and I’m the Director of Workforce Development. It is extremely important because the landscape industry hires over 300,000 people a year. We depend on these programs that produce these amazing students to come into our industry and hopefully stay in our industry for a long time. Coming to an event like this where you get to network with other students who are studying what you’re studying validates your choice in majors. Meeting these industry and supplier folks who’ve been out of school for anywhere from one to 30+ years and see that they are loving our industry and are successful, financially successful, and emotionally successful in our industry.
I hear from employers often that they struggle to find good people. Why is that?
I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about our industry and what the jobs are. I think especially for younger folks, middle school and high school, parents that are not informed about our industry think its just mowing grass all day or pull weeds all day. And that’s going to be your life and you’re not going to make any money. It could not be farther from the truth.
This is a multi-billion dollar industry that struggles to find qualified workers. Helping students pay for college is one way the industry is tackling the problem. The night before I was there over $100,000 in scholarships had been awarded and I spoke with a man who had been a part of that.
I’m Roger Phelps and I’m the corporate communication manager for Stihl Incorporated. Stihl has been a sponsor of the event for about 25 years. We’ve been the lead sponsor of the event for 17 years. Obviously the focus is on education and we realize that if we don’t invest in the future of our industry we won’t have an industry. So we are a founding member of the NALP Foundation which has scholarships that they give out each year. I think we handed out about $107,000 worth of scholarships the other night which was incredibly exciting. For Stihl we gave out a $2500 scholarship to a young lady from Texas A&M. I have to say I did get a little emotional, I’ll admit to that. Because for her it meant the world. She was so excited. For her this is what she wants to do. This is the career she wants to pursue. That scholarship means the difference between being debt free or having debt. As she said this is going to make a big difference in her life.
Can you give me some scope about the industry?
I think the NALP is probably the best source. But I do know that if we look at the landscape industry as a whole, you’re talking billions of dollars of economic impact per year. You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people that are employed at all levels. All the way from the manual labor all the way up to entrepreneurs. We do know that the landscape industry is one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial areas if you want to own your own business. You also have incredible growth potential. For me it’s exciting because for the 17 years I’ve been here I am now seeing former students that I saw compete in these events that are now in the industry and are now back here yesterday at the career fair recruiting. So that’s exciting it’s like watching your own kids grow up. The stories that they have to tell about the money that they are making, the joy that they have in the work, the feeling of significance that they are making a difference in their communities. I think that’s what so powerful about this industry. As I like to say, a lot of people like to walk around and enjoy landscapes, they go to a park or a botanical garden, and I think not too many people understand that those green spaces didn’t just happen. That there are individuals who design them, install them, and maintain them. Those individuals are coming out of an event like this out of college programs. For those universities and colleges that are here think that’s why this industry is so significant.
A lot of the people I spoke to acknowledge this industry is largely unseen and know that most people walk right through a beautiful well-maintained landscape without giving much thought to how it happened. But these students are passionate about their work and they want to help make our world a better place.
Alamance Community College
My name is Isaias. This is my second semester in the program. I really love hydroponics and I was given the opportunity to work at our hydroponics house as a part-time employee. I’m loving it so far. At the end of all of this I hope to move somewhere else in the country and work on hydroponic production in a greenhouse or in a vertical farming.
My name is Emily. I’m in the third semester of my first year. I’m looking to move into sustainable agriculture. So I’m the dirt half of this crew. But we’re all sustainable. I’m looking more into agri-scape and design. Edible plants. That’s my interest.
Brigham Young University
I’m Jackson. I’m a student at BYU and we are part of the landscape management program. I want to go into urban forestry and help cities manage trees and parks along streets.
NC State University
I’m Sophia I am currently in my last semester in the ag institute, horticulture program at NC State. Its a two-year associate degree program. I want to be outside working with plants, so I hope to do either estate gardening or somewhere where I am on a site, like grounds keeping or somewhere along those lines. I like to watch a site, monitor and maintain it. I find that really rewarding.
Oklahoma State University
I’m David. I’m from Oklahoma City and I am actually going to be graduating in May with a degree in landscape design contracting and management. Hopefully I’d like to find a job doing landscape design but after being here there’s a lot of things that I would be open to so a lot of opportunities that are in the field for sure.
I am Nathan from Tuttle, OK. I go to OSU-OK. I’m a freshman there. I’m in my second semester.
What have you enjoyed the most here?
Oklahoma State University
Just seeing how many schools are here. Being able to see how everyone is so excited. The different schools that are here; 4-year programs, 2-year programs, community colleges, state universities. Just everybody that’s here and getting to see all that excitement. Everybody is excited. Everybody is super excited to learn and to see what this industry has to offer. You can’t help but be pumped up by it. I think my favorite part is this industry is very friendly. Everybody is up to help each other. There’s a certain level of competition but for the most part everyone is willing to share knowledge and give tips. Everyone is so excited to talk to somebody else in their field because you can relate. It makes for some great conversations.
That day as I was heading out I realized I had a goofy smile on my face. I was caught up in the excitement and enthusiasm of the day. There were over a thousand people on campus that day and they all play different roles in the green industry. They were helping each other and working to make our world better. Leaving campus I walked by perfectly shaped hedges, neatly trimmed grass, and healthy trees lining the walkway. It was nice to spend the time celebrating the industry that makes it all possible. I’m Lise Jenkins and this is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. You can find this and other episodes of our podcast on our website TriangleGardener.com, iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.